vice news ghosts of aleppo
Credit: Image from 'Ghosts of Aleppo', Vice News.

In the eighteen months since launch, Vice News has grown rapidly, with its YouTube channel now boasting over 300 million video views and 1.6 million subscribers.

Vice News has been successful in two aspects that other news outlets, including legacy publishers, seem to be struggling with in the digital age: engaging young audiences with global news, and doing so through longform video.

Speaking at the INMA European News Media conference in Budapest today, Dan Miller, director for communications and strategy, EU, at Vice, said the key is not only speaking to young people in a way that will draw their attention, but also "getting them to care about what we say".

“The internet is viewed as some sort of dumping ground and 10 years ago, the narrative was that if you put video on the web, it had to be short, snappy and funny,” he said.

“So we ignored that, because we saw that our audience had an appetite for current affairs and international news told in a longform video format.”

Ahead of the Vice News launch, the team asked their intended audience what they would like to see from a news channel.

The feedback they received, said Miller, showed that young people weren't happy with the traditional media offering. They were interested in global news and current affairs, but in more engaging formats and on different platforms.

"Young people were very disenfranchised with the media sources available to them and with this cultural shift, the technological shift was going alongside it".

Team up with social networks

Focusing on this issue, Vice has grown its audience by establishing partnerships with the platforms young people actively use on a daily basis, such as YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat.

The media organisation signed up to Snapchat Discover when the initiative launched in January, where it trialled longer videos sometimes reaching 20 minutes in length.

Since partnering with YouTube in 2012, Vice has amassed 2.5 billion views and 13 million subscribers across all of its 10 channels.

And perhaps more importantly, it also discovered young people are watching 40 to 90 minutes long documentaries in their entirety, said Miller.

This served as the backbone of Vice News when the vertical launched – its YouTube channel is now home to all global news documentaries from Vice, covering topics like the Ebola outbreak, the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, and the rise of ISIS in the Middle East.

Build up interest along the way

The format of these documentaries bears more similarities to live video than a perfectly edited film, with interviews often structured like an informal conversation between the reporter dispatched on the ground and eyewitnesses or experts.

But how does Vice News share these stories across different apps and networks?

Miller explained the approach is to enable the audience to follow a story on multiple platforms as it unfolds, sparking the readers' interest in the topic from the very beginning.

For example, when reporter Henry Langston was covering the conflict in Ukraine last year, he used Twitter to break news as it happened with a series of images, as well as uploading a short video teaser to Instagram and writing a story for the website.

His reporting culminated on YouTube with a 28 minute documentary called Ukraine Burning.

Miller outlined some key considerations for news outlets when trying to reach younger audiences, to which "social media is the front page of the internet":
  • listen to the audience;
  • quality and authenticity are the most important metrics;
  • content has to travel across networks;
  • treat the internet with respect;
  • be brave in your decision making.

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